Full-Court Press: Dayton

Sooners look to avoid upset, letdown in hostile environment

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2014-15 season.

No. 11 Dayton (27-8) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma (23-10)

When: 5:10 p.m. CST

TV/Radio: TNT/107.7 FM(OKC); 1430 AM (Tulsa)

Series: Oklahoma, 2-1

Managing the crowd

There’s no question that an Ohio-based team playing in the state of Ohio will turn a supposed neutral court into a home-court advantage. Dayton will embrace that, and as the underdog, the Flyers will have neutral fans cheering for them as well.

The Sooners, who have had very little success when playing on a supposed neutral site, expect Sunday’s game to be more like a true road game than an NCAA Tournament game.

“It’s like a road game,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We’ll approach this like we would any road game. … We’re playing a very good Dayton team. We’ve got to be good. We’ve got to be strong. We’ve got to communicate. We’ve got to make sure that we’re repeating calls and everybody know what we’re doing on the floor.”

Oklahoma has played in a game like this before. Against Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference Tournament semifinals, the Soners faced a hostile crowd at a neutral site.

Guard Buddy Hield didn’t think the Cyclones’ crowd bothered Oklahoma all that much. The crowd played a bigger role in keeping Iowa State motivated, something that will no doubt be a recurrent theme against Dayton.

“If you’re playing a good team, you have to control the tempo or on the road,” Hield said. “We just have to find a way to win. We can’t let the crowd affect us. … We had chances to play complete games. This has to be the game we finish out. It’ll be a home crowd. We just have to get after them.”

Coming down from the high

So much was put on Oklahoma trying to win its first NCAA Tournament since 2009, that there’s a bit of a feeling of relief. Sitting on the bench, Hield seemed to relax as the final seconds ticked off the clock against Albany.

He said afterward that it felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulder.

There was so much build up, but now, there’s so much emphasis on making sure the run doesn’t stop with one game – that Oklahoma isn’t satisfied with just ending the streak. “You can’t celebrate because we haven’t done anything yet,” Hield said. “We have one more game to win. It’s a two-game tournament.”

Oklahoma is trying to make the Sweet 16 for only the second time since 2003. “We wanted to get that first win, but at the same time, we didn’t want to just get that first win,” said TaShawn Thomas, who played in his first NCAA Tournament game against Albany. “We wanted to be able to compete to keep going, and we’re going to try to do whatever it takes to get this next one and continue to keep going on.”

Oklahoma hasn’t always followed up big victories with successful performances. After beating Red River Rival Texas by 21 points – probably the biggest win of the season to that point, the Sooners lost four of their next five games.

The Sooners lost to Kansas State after beating Iowa State and fell to the Cyclones after beating Kansas to close the regular season and winning their first postseason game under Kruger against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

“It really just made us hungrier,” point guard Jordan Woodard said of winning the first NCAA Tournament game. “We’re just not satisfied at all. We’ve been talking about it as a team that we got that first one out of the way and none of them are going to be easy. “

Front-court battle

Wanting to make an early statement, Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler set out to be very aggressive early in the Sooners’ matchup with Albany.

Spangler scored inside twice in the first four possessions, including a three-point play on a physical drive to the basket. From there, Spangler struggled a bit, but his aggression early set the stage for one of Thomas’ best games in an Oklahoma uniform as the Sooners took their offense inside.

“We’re at our best when we’re out in transition, but we are also at our best when we’re going inside out,” Spangler said. “Our guards are going to hit shots. If me and TaShawn can get some buckets going and, it’ll open up things for them.”

Dayton, which has just six scholarship players after dismissing two rotation players in December, doesn’t have a player on its roster taller than 6-foot-6 but still relies on solid post play.

Thomas and Spangler, who both stand at 6-foot-8, as well as long, athletic bench forwards Khadeem Lattin and D.J. Bennett will have a noted advantage inside.

Bennett and Thomas excelled against an undersized Albany team, something Oklahoma will try replicate against Dayton.

“We try to throw it inside. We always do,” Kruger said. “. . . We love to establish inside and play inside-out. Easier said than done against a cub that’s as quick as they are.”



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